New Orleans Saints rookie guard Cesar Ruiz channels his intense focus on hard work and daily improvement. With his play on the field beginning to blossom at the midway point of the season, teammates are taking notice.
"He's impressive, man," said Saints eight-year veteran All-Pro tackle Terron Armstead. "He's impressive. I spoke about him during camp and early on in the season. I like him a lot. I really do. He goes about his business. He's a fighter and he's excited to embrace his journey and write his own story in the NFL. He's a guy that asks a lot of questions. So you know that he's someone that is continuously working on his craft and trying to be the best player he can be."
When the Saints selected the versatile offensive lineman out of Michigan with the 24th overall pick this spring, Ruiz was expected to open the season as a starter at right guard before a late preseason injury slowed his development. As a result, veteran Nick Easton earned the start on opening day.
Ruiz made his NFL debut in the Week 2 loss at Las Vegas, playing just six snaps after Easton left the contest with a concussion.
"I'm still going be picking stuff up until I retire," Ruiz said about the learning process as a rookie. "You're going to learn a lot of different things. I am learning a lot different things from different guys. Every time there is something I don't recognize in practice or little things like that. I'm learning from those little things right there."
Ruiz would get more playing time against Green Bay in Week 3, 51 snaps, when an injury to left guard Andrus Peat knocked him from the game. Peat's injury forced him to miss the fourth game against the Lions, giving Ruiz his first NFL start.
Ruiz enjoyed the best game of his young NFL career in Week 7 against Carolina, playing all 70 offensive snaps, earning a career-high 78.2 overall grade in the contest. He also allowed zero pressures on 40 pass blocking opportunities. He alternated reps with with Easton in Sunday's dominating win over the Buccaneers, which was one of the offensive line's best games of the season. The victory was the team's fifth consecutive and improved their record to 6-2, tops in the NFC South and tied for the best record in the NFC with Green Bay and Seattle.
"Just grinding every day really," Ruiz said of his play through the first half of the season. "Taking care of my body and stay on top of the little things and try and learn as much I can every single day. Really just being a sponge, really just learning and trying to perfect myself every day."
As a 2020 NFL draft selection, Ruiz entered the league under unprecedented circumstances due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"I think really, the only thing was that, we didn't really get to actually play some football until August," Ruiz said about dealing with unique circumstances during his rookie campaign. "I know in regular, in normal circumstances it would be some time right after the Draft, like a couple weeks after that. I think that was really the only thing when it comes down to learning the offense. It wasn't really that difficult. We had the virtual meetings, we were able to come in and do actual live reps from here. So I would say the most difficult part was not being able to actually play football for so long."
Ruiz started 26 of 31 games at center with Michigan, spending the remaining five starts at right guard.
"One of the areas we wanted to improve in this draft was interior offensive lineman," Saints Coach Sean Payton said of New Orleans' first draft selection. "Those are hard players to find later in the draft. We had a real high grade on Cesar. He was a guy that I'd say we had a lot of information on."